Following the Law

Following the Law

The Major Crime Squad truck is parked in the rear lot at Albertus Magnus College, with a full hazmat suit hanging in its trailer door and display boards of sample crime scene photos leaning against a table outside. A group of high school students sits cross-legged on the pavement, listening to a talk about crime scene evaluation. They’re among about 100 participants in the college’s annual Criminal Justice Camp, a free event designed to teach interested young people from across the state about careers in law enforcement.

It seems this may be the area of policing that intrigues the students the most, I comment as I watch them file into the crime squad’s truck. I’m standing a few yards away with state trooper James Scott, a recruiter with the state police and an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Albertus, who started the camp. “A lot of people… see shows like CSI and NCIS and gravitate toward those types of assignments,” he agrees. However, “It’s really not as glamorous as TV makes it seem,” adds Dr. Jay Lawrie, chair of Albertus’s criminal justice program and a co-organizer of the camp.

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Over at the Department of Corrections tent, correctional captain Edward Guzman and correction officer Ray Faryniarz reel off a long list of corrections jobs that students have probably never thought about: financial officer, psychologist, emergency response team member, social worker, teacher, kitchen staff, nurse, doctor, electrician, plumber, vehicle mechanic. “It’s a city within a city,” Guzman says.

State troopers are at the camp as well. Trooper Chris Melanson slides a portable scale into a rack in the back of his vehicle as he and his colleague Mike Belton talk about commercial enforcement—for example, weighing trucks to be sure they’re carrying a legal load appropriate to what state roads can handle. It’s just “one of the unique jobs for the state police” that people are less familiar with, Melanson says. “We don’t just go out and write tickets. We do many different things that are kind of behind the scenes.” Melanson offers another scenario: escorting “supersize loads that otherwise would just stop traffic,” like a fighter plane. They “usually roll in the middle of the night” while the rest of us sleep.

Melanson and Belton also take this opportunity with a group of teenagers to introduce them to “The Convincer,” a single-seated contraption with a steering wheel. Like a mini rollercoaster, The Convincer backs up a short track and rides down, simulating a fender bender at 5 miles per hour. A student named Alyson from Trumbull’s St. Joseph High School is convinced. After taking a ride, she says, “I feel like if I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, then… my face would probably hit the steering wheel. It was kind of stressful.”

In addition to the troopers, corrections officers and crime squad, the city’s Fire Investigation Unit and the Hamden police are present. So are the Connecticut National Guard and the state police Bomb and Explosive K-9 Unit, with a black lab named Henna who’s popular with attendees. A “hands-on session focused on DNA testing” is held indoors in one of the Albertus labs. At the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) tent, Albertus alum Ryan Mihalyak talks with students about one part of his job as a police officer: patrolling waterways for fishing violations. The parking lot also boasts several vintage police cars, a throwback to Adam-12 or Hawaii Five-O.

The criminal justice system has evolved in recent decades, says Albertus’s Lawrie. “It’s a multidisciplinary approach, a lot more psychology, sociology, working with other departments, other agencies, working with the community.” Adds Scott, “When it comes to public safety, it’s all integrated.”

This is the ninth year for the Criminal Justice Camp—just long enough for some of its first attendees to have acted upon what they learned here. Jodie Szarmach of Seymour was a junior when she went to the camp. She knew she was interested in law enforcement—her grandfather was a state trooper—but that day she saw a presentation by an FBI investigator. “Doing the crime scene stuff totally had me hooked,” she recalls. Later she enrolled in the criminal justice program at Albertus, and an internship with the Orange Police Department led her to training as an EMT. Now she’s hoping to become a dispatcher.

There’s no telling where the students at this year’s camp will end up. But chances are they left with a bigger view of the world than they arrived with. That’s good enough for Scott, who says he could have benefited from a camp like this when he was a kid. “Speaking for myself,” he says, “I only thought of being a uniformed police officer, and I didn’t realize how vast the criminal justice system is. So I try to give kids the opportunity that I wish I would have had.”

Albertus Magnus Criminal Justice Camp
Albertus Magnus College – 700 Prospect St, New Haven (map)
Held yearly, in June

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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